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Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Cool of the Morning

With afternoon temperatures hovering listlessly around the forty Celcius mark the best time for walking the hills around Ferma is, without doubt, just as the sun is beginning to rise. As the pre-dawn blues of Strongoli begin to melt in its rays only the olives, pines and lentisc retain their green. A lingering Bugloss fades its final flowers from pink to violet but the overriding impression is one of a sepia landscape. It is a time of grasshoppers, crickets and dragonflies.

I think we'll head off into those pines for a bit and try to find some shade. This is a part of the gully we explored a few years back in A Kingdom in the Pine Woods



I see we still have a couple of beetles about; a False Blister beetle feeding on the last remaining nectar of the Fennel (all adult False Blisters are pollen feeding) and in this dying Globe Thistle another Chlorophorus varius. This is the beetle we found last time out that we think is new to the island (see The Ultimate Jigsaw Puzzle). He looks to be on his last legs – insects don't tend to live very long once they've reached adulthood and mated – so lets box him up and let him die in peace. No-one has let me know of a previous sighting of this beetle yet on the island so a physical specimen may be needed at some point to find out a little bit more about his origins. It's amazing what you can find out these days with a little genomic sequencing but you can't do it from a photograph.

We'll just rest quietly here for a while, listen to the birds and see who comes to visit. I can hear greenfinch, chaffinch and great tit flitting around in the foliage and... “Good morning to you Sir (or Madam – I'm never too sure which with buzzards)” A nice little early morning encounter. Pity it saw us and decided not to grace us with its company a little longer. This may be one of its favourite breakfasting spots, Buzzards always catch their prey on the ground and there are plenty of vantage points here to spot anything rustling the dry grasses in this little clearing.

The cicadas will be safe on the trunks of the trees, there must be dozens of them here this morning. I can hardly hear myself think. The cicada song (if one can dignify such a horrendous racket with the term) almost defines Mediterranean summer nights in literature and, on my recent exile to the bustling town of Ierapetra, I did indeed hear cicadas in the wee small hours, but out here in the country they start at sunrise and cease at sunset. Incredibly difficult to spot, cicadas, unless you see them land. There are two above your head, look. Just there on the trunk. Much as I'd like to stay on my back here, gazing up at the moon there's another little place up the road that I want to show you where we can look for some lizards.

This is Ferma, ancient and modern so to speak. Behind this old stone structure you can see our new solar electricity generating plant but it's in the old bit (and I've never been able to determine what it was) where you can find lizards coming out to bask on the stone walls. If we just crouch here in the shadows and wait for a bit. Ouch! And ouch again! I don't know about you but I appear to be being bitten by house flies. Now this is odd, not to say painful, because house flies don't bite. If you look at this picture that I took a while back of a fly rubbing his legs whilst sitting on a red leather purse you can just make out his mouth parts which act like a sort of sponge for mopping up liquid nutrients. This little expletive on my leg however seems to have a pneumatic hypodermic attached to his face. Although he looks very much like a house fly, albeit a little smaller, he is in fact a Stable Fly, Stomoxys calcitrans, also known as the biting house fly and the power mower fly. These can pass on diseases to horses, cattle and poultry but thankfully, in this part of the world at least, not to humans. It's quite a painful little bite though and I'm beginning to swell up already so I think we'll leave the lizards for another day. Besides which I really do think that it's time for breakfast.

The Extra Bit

For anyone requiring further information about Chlorophorus varius I have diagnostic photos available and a specimen. Email me at Chlorophorusvarius@outlook.com

Many of you have asked me what photographic equipment I use so here's a quick rundown on the cameras used for each picture. For details of aperture settings, shutter speeds etc. my pictures will be on Flickr within a few days and that has all the geeky stuff.

Picture 1 Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D, Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3
Picture 2 Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D
Picture 3 Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3
Picture 4 Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D
Picture 5 Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3, Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D
Extra Bit pictures Canon EOS 1300D
Pictures cropped and lighting adjusted with FastStone Image Viewer


And finally...thanks for all your good wishes for my wife who is now recovering at home.


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LINKS:
Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)
See detailed pictures on Flickr
Read more about the flora and flora of the island in The Nature of Crete (Flipboard Magazine)
Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Steve's Nature Quiz #14

We were getting a bit batty a couple of weeks ago but are bats most closely related to

a) whales

b) shrews

c) mice


Bats, whales shrews, mice and ourselves for that matter are all placental mammals with a common ancestor from about 80-100 million years ago. From this ancestor two separate branches evolved; one containing ourselves and other primates along with rabbits and rodents (which includes the mice) and one containing the bats and a host of other mammals too numerous to mention. So we and the mice waved goodbye to the bats and the next group to go their own way included the hedgehogs, shrews and moles. Surprisingly then, bats are more closely related to whales than they are to either shrews or mice. Who'd have thought it?

For more weird nature facts follow the Crete Nature Blog

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

How to be a Naturalist – Anywhere



I have said before that one of the great things about studying nature is that you can do it anywhere at any time. For this past week I have been given the chance to prove my point as I have been incarcerated in Ierapetra General Hospital looking after my good lady wife who has been having rather a rough time of it recently. 

One of the lovely things about Greek hospitals is that many of them have balconies which attract nesting birds. On our balcony measures had been taken to deter nesting pigeons which inadvertently provided ideal sites for House Sparrows. Undeterred the pigeons squeezed onto the top of an air conditioning unit  which a goldfinch would have thought twice about and tried to construct a nest by dropping sticks down the back and waiting to see if they fell through or not. 

Meanwhile the palm trees and the monkey puzzle tree below us provided perches for greenfinch, great tit and blackbird whilst in the sky above swifts and swallows and lesser black backed gulls graced the air. And last night we even had a barn owl glide through. 

The evenings gave us the opportunity to study some of the crepuscular insects that seemed determined to share a bed with the patients which included little brown ants, little green bugs and the inevitable mosquitoes. Having said that, resident insects within the hospital itself were virtually nil. Those that came in through the balcony doors were easily persuaded to leave and gave us no trouble at night. 

But best of all were the bats that had found a roost in the central block and came out at dusk each evening. With the sparrows decimating the insect population to feed their young during the day and the bats scything through them at night it's no wonder that the poor things sought refuge in the wards. Not sure of the species (we have sixteen on Crete) but I think that it is one of the four Pipistrelles to be found on the island. 

A bit short and sweet this week for obvious reasons but normal service will be resumed as soon as possible and we'll be back on the Ferma trail.



The Extra Bit 


Cretan Beaches.com have a great little wildlife section on their website with a whole page dedicated to the bats of Crete: Cretan Beaches.com - Bats of Crete 

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LINKS: 
Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists(the facebook page that accompanies this blog) 
Read more about the flora and flora of the island in The Nature of Crete(Flipboard Magazine) 
Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactiveHiking and Nature Map 


Sunday, 2 July 2017

Steve's Nature Quiz #13

Who should beware of this beetle?

a) tomato growers
b) orange and lemon growers
c) peach and almond growers




This is Chlorophorus varius happily pollinating a Globe Thistle. When he was a young grub however you'd find him in peach, apricot, plum and almond orchards where he can do considerable damage. Although present in much of mainland Europe, the Middle East and North Africa I can find no record of it occurring in Crete.

Taken from this week's #CreteNature Blog              The Ultimate Jigsaw Puzzle

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The Ultimate Jigsaw Puzzle

We'll make our way up from the beach via the steps by the Porto Belissario hotel and then take a stroll up a track that will take us to the north east corner of the village.  

Now you may think that I'm puffed already, half way up the stairs but honestly, I've only stopped to admire this dragonfly. As you may already know, dragonflies and damselflies form a common group called the Odonata and you can tell them apart by the way they hold their wings at rest. Folded above the body: damselfly. Held out away from the body: dragonfly. There are 19 species of dragonfly on Crete in three  families and this is one of the Skimmers from the largest family, the Libelluidae. Nature is the ultimate jigsaw puzzle and being able to recognise a dragonfly and the family it belongs to is very much a first step; like the initial sorting of the pieces. 

The next part of the puzzle is fitting a few pieces together and if we take a look at these Globe Thistles across the road here we can do just that. As you can see they are being pollinated by a Buff-tailed Bumblebee and two different types of beetle. Incidentally the black and yellow beetle is a Chlorophorus varius which hasn't been recorded on Crete before as far as I am aware. It is the inter-relationships between species that start to show us glimpses of the big picture. 

If we trundle on up this hill a bit we can see the same thing happening on this Thyme, being pollinated by a Mammoth Wasp and two species of butterfly. Which links very pathetically into time being the fourth dimension of this puzzle. The insects we are seeing are all adults. In their juvenile states they may interact with a whole different catalogue of plants and not by beneficially pollinating them but by feeding upon them. Every gardener knows the damage that the caterpillar of the Small White can do to his brassicas and peach growers may well have reason to dislike the larvae of  Chlorophorus varius. 

So far we have been fitting the pieces together very simply; an insect interacts with a plant for food which may either harm or benefit the plant. Here beside the track we have some Lassius niger ants visiting some Fennel, a plant in which they have no particular interest per se. The sap of the fennel is of interest to those Black Bean aphids however and as they gorge on it they excrete the ant attractant sugar melezitose. Conventional wisdom has it that the aphids attract the ants for defence. However a recent paper has shown that this strategy may come at a cost [1]. So our jigsaw puzzle not only changes with time but it is a puzzle of many layers. 

Here we are at the top of the hill and by fitting all the pieces together we can see the panorama on the box. Apart from that cactus being pollinated by our Buff-tailed Bumblebee which shouldn't be in the picture at all. It is a garden plant that is spreading into the wild and in all likelihood pushing out native plants. This may have a knock on effect for the insects that depend on those plants and the birds, mammals and reptiles that rely on those insects as a food source. Nature really is the ultimate jigsaw puzzle; not only is it incredibly complex with over a million pieces, it is multi layered and ever changing. No wonder that it's so addictive. 

The Extra Bit 

  

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LINKS: 
Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists(the facebook page that accompanies this blog) 
See detailed pictures onFlickr 
Read more about the flora and flora of the island in The Nature of Crete(Flipboard Magazine) 
Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactiveHiking and Nature Map